It’s our Tree of Life — the Torah, aka the Five Books of Moses, aka the Pentateuch. Here’s a page of fun facts and customs relating to our sacred scripture.
All ancient books were written on scrolls. Small scrolls (like our Purim Megillah) had only one wooden roller. Our Torah, because it was so lengthy, required a second wooden roller (called an etz hayim, tree of life).
We treat the Torah the way people used to treat a holy person or a king or queen: We stand when the Torah stands. We back away from the Torah rather than turning your back on it. We show respect and love for the Torah by approaching it and kissing it.
The person who writes a Torah scroll is called a sofer. Some sofrim (plural) are so adept at their work that they can plan out the entire Torah so as to begin each column with a word that starts with the letter vav. Check out if you have a Vav Torah in your congregation!
Never touch the open Torah parchment with your hands – the oil on your fingers can damage the parchment. And when you’re using the yad – the pointer that looks like a tiny hand – don’t let it rest on the words in the Torah either. It can rub out the words.
Yasher koach means something like “More power to you!” To which the proper reply is, “May you be blessed!” In Hebrew:
Answer: Baruch tee-yeh (to a male) or Bruchah tee-yee (to a female).
Each column in a Torah scroll is about 5 inches wide – enough space to write the longest word of the Torah (l’mishp’choteiheim – ‘according to their families’ Gen. 8:19) three times. Since the 1900s, the writing of a Torah has been standardized; there are 248 columns of 42 lines each. The last three words of the Torah must be on their own line.
You’re probably familiar with the typical Ashkenazi Torah scroll on two rollers, with a cover over it. But Sephardi Torah Scrolls are traditionally encased in a wooden box to protect them. That’s how they’re read, too – without taking the scroll out of the box.
For at least 1000 years, every Sefer Torah has had the exact same words and letters: 304,805 letters, to be precise. It can take a full day just to write one column, up to 3 years to write a full Torah.
If a mistake is made, the ink is usually scraped off with a piece of sharp glass. No metal that is used to make weapons can be used on a Sefer Torah. That’s to fulfill the biblical words: And all its pathways are paths of peace.
Did you know? A sofer has a special quill he uses only for God’s four letter name. If a mistake is made in one of God’s seven holy names, it cannot be erased or scraped off. The column where the mistake appears must be trimmed off and stored in a special place (called a Genizah) until it can be buried properly with other unusable holy texts.